Anton Julius Carlson

10th APS President (1923-1925)
Anton Julius Carlson

Carlson was president of APS during exciting years for American physiology. In the first year of his term, papers on newly discovered insulin were featured at the Federation meeting. That year Carlson presented an invitation at Edinburgh on behalf of APS to hold the next International Physiological Congress in America. The invitation, reissued in 1926, was accepted for the 1929 congress.

One of the most colorful characters in the history of American physiology, Carlson was born in Sweden and came to America alone in 1891, knowing scarcely any English. Abandoning his initial plan of entering the ministry, he received a Ph.D. degree in physiology at Stanford in 1902 under O. P. Jenkins, with a dissertation on the rate of the nerve impulse in mollusks. At Woods Hole in 1904 he acquired a reputation by his studies on the heart of the horseshoe crab Limulus, which showed that the cardiac nerves controlled the heartbeat. In 1904 he joined the Department of Physiology at the University of Chicago, where he became professor in 1914 and chairman in 1916, positions he held until 1940. Known by his students with affection and awe as "Ajax," he presided over the most prolific department in the country for the training of physiologists.

After 1909 Carlson turned from comparative to mammalian physiology. He worked, often in association with his colleague at Chicago, Arno B. Luckhardt, on the hunger mechanism, the physiology of the thyroid and parathyroid, the pancreas, and the visceral sensory nervous system. He was the author of The Control of Hunger in Health and Disease (1916) and of the popular textbook, The Machinery of the Body (1941), written with Victor Johnson.

Elected to APS in 1904, Carlson served on Council for a total of thirteen years. As secretary of APS from 1909 to 1914, during the period of the founding of the Federation, he became the first secretary of the Executive Committee of the Federation. He long took an active role in APS publications, first as a member of the Publications Committee (1912-14), when Porter was editing the journal, and later as chairman of the Board of Editors of Physiological Reviews (1932-50). At APS meetings he was well known and at times feared for his aggressive and pungent criticism of papers. Long active in civic affairs, in 1946 with his former student, A. C. Ivy, he founded the National Society for Medical Research to educate the public on the dangers of antivivisectionist legislation. Ivy wrote of him, "The influence of a zeal for the truth, a critical judgment, a colorful personality and dynamic teaching has nowhere been better exemplified than in the life of Dr. Carlson."

Selected Publications

1. Dragstedt, L. R. Anton Julius Carlson, January 29, 1875-September 2, 1956. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. 35: 1-32, 1961.

2. Dragstedt, L. An American by choice: a story about Dr. A. J. Carlson. Perspect. Biol. Med. 7: 145-158, 1963-64.

3. Garrett, C. G. B. Anton Julius Carlson. In: Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1980, suppl. 6, p. 99-100.

4. Howell, W. H., and C. W. Greene. History of the American Physiological Society Semicentennial, 1887-1937. Baltimore, MD: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1938, p. 122-124.

5. Ingle, D. J. Anton J. Carlson: a biographical sketch. Perspect. Biol. Med. 22(2), part 2: S114-S136, 1979.

6. Ivy, A. C. Anton Julius Carlson. Physiologist 2(2): 33-39, 1959. (Reprinted in Physiologist 10: 1-6, 1967.)

7. Visscher, M. B. Anton Julius Carlson. In: Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Scribner, 1971, vol. 3, p. 68-70.